OMAHA – Surprisingly, the initial flash of emotion felt much the same. David Plummer said he was in shock four years ago, when he missed the Olympic team by .12 of a second. And Tuesday night, when the former Gopher finally snagged that long-awaited prize?
“Honestly, I think it’s shock both times,’’ Plummer said, working to squeeze the words out of his burning, heaving lungs. “We’ll see in about an hour where I’m at.’’
Though he’d never been in this position before, the smile on his face showed he already knew the bliss that was coming. Plummer, of Minneapolis, finished second to Ryan Murphy in the men’s 100-meter backstroke at the Olympic trials, sewing up a place on the Olympic team for the first time. After swimming the first 50 meters in world-record time, he fought it out with a surging Murphy in the final strokes at CenturyLink Center, with only .02 of a second separating them.
Murphy, 20, touched the wall in 52.26 seconds. Plummer clocked a 52.28, and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Matt Grevers was third in 52.76.
Plummer still has to wait a bit before his name appears on the U.S. roster for Rio. Though the second-place finishers always make the team, they are not officially named until later in the meet. After putting in four years of work to arrive at this moment, Plummer can handle a few more days.
“I’m a little stunned, and really, really tired,’’ said Plummer, the first Gophers swimmer to make the Olympic team in 52 years. “It feels good.
“I think I’ve still got more in that race. I’ve still got more I can squeeze out in that last 25 [meters], for sure. So it will be a matter of tightening things up in the next few weeks.’’
Day 3 of the trials welcomed a number of Olympic newcomers on board, while more familiar faces found the going rough. In addition to Grevers, Missy Franklin — the 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the women’s 100 back — finished seventh in that event and will not swim it in Rio. Eleven-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte was fourth in the men’s 200 freestyle as he continued to endure a painful pulled groin muscle.
Lochte did claim a place on his fourth Olympic team, as the top four finishers in the 200 free will swim the 800 free relay in Rio. Others who made the team included Townley Haas, Conor Dwyer and Jack Conger (men’s 200 free), Olivia Smoliga and Kathleen Baker (women’s 100 back), and Lilly King and Katie Meili (women’s 100 breaststroke). Of the 10 swimmers who claimed Olympic spots Tuesday, all but Dwyer and Lochte are Summer Games rookies.
That includes Plummer, who left Omaha in 2012 with an empty heart. It overflowed with gratitude Tuesday, when a crowd announced at 14,132 cheered him toward a happy ending in his fourth Olympic trials.
Plummer topped the field in the qualifying and semifinal rounds, swimming a personal-best time of 52.12 — fastest in the world this year — in Monday’s semis. Murphy, who has won the NCAA title in the 100-yard back in each of his first three college seasons, moved up from fourth in the prelims to second in the semis.
Each found himself wondering Tuesday if those times had been a little too quick. In the final, Plummer powered through the first 50 in 25.19 seconds, on pace to break Aaron Peirsol’s world record of 51.94. He and Murphy both had to reach deep in the final meters.
“Those last 10 meters, I was praying for the wall to come a little bit faster,’’ said Murphy, whose time Tuesday is the world’s second-fastest in 2016. “I was sucking wind there at the end. I didn’t know where I was, so it was a big surprise when I hit the wall.’’
Murphy noted after the race that Plummer “has been killing it all year’’ and believes the two of them have a good chance to take gold and silver in Rio. That actually has become something of an expectation for the American men.
U.S. swimmers have won gold in the men’s 100 back at the past five Olympics and have captured gold and silver at the past two. Dating to the event’s Olympic debut in 1908, the U.S. has stood atop the podium in the 100 back at 14 of 23 Summer Games.
After his race, Plummer was asked if he feels any pressure to uphold that. Quite the contrary, he answered. For the past four years, he wanted nothing more than an opportunity to shoulder that load — and Tuesday, it didn’t feel heavy at all.
“That’s something we take very seriously and take a lot of pride in,’’ he said. “You want to live up to the people who paved the way for where we’re at. I don’t know that it’s stress. It’s something we have a lot of confidence in.’’